The report by the GAO is set for release Tuesday, while the evaluation of Iraq's security forces, by a panel headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, former commandant and NATO commander, will be released Thursday.
A third report, a quarterly assessment of Iraq required by Congress from the Pentagon, also is due next month.
The Pentagon yesterday rejected the conclusions contained in a draft of the GAO report. According to an Associated Press account, the draft report said the Iraq government has failed to meet at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks.
Defense officials complained that the GAO assigned "pass/fail" grades to the Iraq government, but a better measure was one that rated whether and how much progress was being made.
"Many of the things outlined in the president's benchmark report are ongoing," Sherlock said, "without necessarily having achieved those benchmarks completely."
For instance, he said the government in Baghdad is already sharing oil revenues with other provinces, even though laws governing the distribution of oil revenues haven't been enacted.
Getting `full picture'
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters the Defense Department had "made some factual corrections" to the GAO draft report and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" given by the GAO. The GAO routinely solicits such reviews before its reports are completed.
"The administration's interest is making sure that we get a full picture of what's going on in Iraq," said White House press secretary Tony Snow, urging patience until all the reports are released.
Other analysts, however, said they suspect the benchmarks won't be much help in settling the political storm over the war.
"The situation in Iraq has become so complex that I am skeptical that the 18 benchmarks can really elucidate what's going on," said Brian Katulis, who worked in Iraq with the National Democratic Institute and is now at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.
For instance, while Bush and military commanders have boasted that violence in Baghdad decreased significantly over the summer, U.S. intelligence believes one reason is sectarian "cleansing." That would suggest that decreasing violence signals hardening sectarian divisions rather than the reconciliation that is a major U.S. goal in Iraq.
In many Baghdad neighborhoods, Sunnis have been driven from their homes by Shiite extremists. Where such "population displacements" have taken place, "conflict levels have decreased," said a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released last week by the director of national intelligence, Gen. Mike McConnell.
The Pentagon quarterly reports also appear to misstate the level of civilian violence. According to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, the Pentagon's count of attacks on civilians does not include the bloody violence among Shiite militias in southern Iraq.
The Pentagon's statistics on Iraqis killed in the sectarian violence have been inconsistent as well. A year ago, it reported that more than 2,000 Iraqis had been killed in July 2006. In November, the Pentagon changed that figure to 1,200, and in its most recent report, in June 2007, it said just under 1,400 Iraqis were killed in July 2006. A Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, said he could not provide an immediate explanation.